Based on the book The Six Lives of Lee Miller by Lee’s son Antony Penrose, Edward Kemp’s musical version is a kaleidoscope of living pictures, showing this remarkable photographer in each facet of her fascinating and varied life.
It proceeds in chronological order from her turbulent teenage years in Poughkeepsie, New York State, in the early 1920s, to her equally turbulent final years on a farm in East Sussex where she eventually succumbed to cancer in 1977.
The journey of her life takes in New York, Paris, Cairo, London, and a war-torn Europe - as well as numerous lovers, and a husband or two. There is laughter; there is music. But it is the fascinating story of a life lived to the full which kept the audience completely captivated.
The first published photograph of Lee was taken when she was barely out of her teens, for an advert for sanitary protection, which led to her modelling for Vogue. But it wasn’t long before she moved to Paris, became the student and lover of artist Man Ray, and took her place on the other side of the lens producing surrealist pictures - most notably of the war years, when she was always in the thick of the action, and in the unlikely occupation of war correspondent for British Vogue, depicting the horrors of Dachau and the bombing of Saint Malo alongside fashionable frocks and handbags.
I had never previously heard of Lee Miller – not so surprising as it seems that even her own husband and son had no idea of the life she had led before settling down on the farm, writing cookery books, and yielding to depression and alcoholism. It was only when her daughter-in-law, Suzanna, was looking for childhood pictures that the amazing cache of stored photographs, letters and articles was discovered, leading to exhibitions of her work (most recently in the National Portrait Gallery).
Under Anthony Van Laast’s direction the action moves swiftly and smoothly and enhanced by Jason Carr’s score, which is played superbly by a five piece orchestra, making it more operatic than your average musical and rather reminiscent of Sondheim.
Anna Francolini is a superbly beautiful Lee Miller – a view endorsed by Lee’s granddaughter Ami - and many of the excellent cast doubled up on several parts; notably Mark Meadows as war-photojournalist Dave Scherman (who shared many of her assignments) and a very flamboyant Cocteau, and Beverley Klein as editor of British Vogue and also a cycling Gertrude Stein, singing “I cannot repeat this too often” - very appropriate!
Now that I have discovered Lee Miller I need to know more. I now feel I have to read the book and visit the farm - it’s that sort of show!
- Sheila Ann Connor